Author: David Tobias | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Who would ever guess that the secret to a plumbing business’s success would be great communications and finding a niche within a niche? In the case of Island Plumbing, it doesn’t hurt that the verbal part of the communication takes the form of a charming Irish brogue and a crisp English lilt, both of which are easy on the ears; but it’s more the company’s efficient and effective internal communication and its unique plumbing role behind the scenes that has caused the business to be enormously successful for two decades.
Mike Casey, Island Plumbing’s owner, is a native of Nottingham, England, and Willie Moore, his partner and right-hand man, hails from County Kerry in Ireland. Their history in coming here involves family connections, circuitous professional jogs and simply smart decisions, but they have come together to run a plumbing business that doesn’t just focus on toilet flappers and faucet handles. Instead, the business mostly concentrates on the hidden and infinitely more critical facets of keeping multi-million dollar villa, resort and condominium complexes running seamlessly and without incident.
Moore can describe in great detail the elements that set Island Plumbing apart from the rest, but he says it all starts with Mike.
“Mike has always been into the bigger stuff,” Moore said. “Mike is very smart, he’s got a gift. You can take him anywhere on this island or in Bluffton, and if there’s a major problem, he’ll figure it out. He’s just very, very crafty; it’s weird.”
Moore’s reference to the “bigger stuff” speaks to the core of Island Plumbing’s niche. Twenty years ago, the company had perhaps 70 clients, including commercial and residential. Today that number is down to about seven to 10. If that sounds like a company that’s crashing, it’s not. More than 80 percent of Island Plumbing’s customers are commercial, including some of the largest regimes, resorts and condominium complexes on the island and in Bluffton. Each of those might include up to 250 individual units, so the responsibility is huge. It also means instead of responding to random one-off calls for residential service, Island Plumbing can concentrate on the big stuff: preventive maintenance and working closely with property managers to assure that any plumbing integrity failures are fixed or don’t happen at all.
The list of clients is impressive: rental management companies, resorts, regimes, high-rise oceanfront villas, townhouses, condominium complexes and even restaurants, all tied to the island (and off-island) tourism industry. Residential service is also a piece of Island Plumbing’s business, especially if the residential problem is a particular or unique challenge, which always gets Mike’s attention and his interest.
Still, it’s clear that the accounts come first.
“I find our role in it interesting,” Casey said. “The island has condominium complexes all over. These are all big properties, and we pretty much plumb all of them. So what falls in our lap with these buildings with 75 to 80 units or more in them is, what if a sewer fails in the middle of the summer, anytime in the week, on the weekend or during the turnover? If it affects people in any way, they’re going to want money back, and that affects the management company, the regime and the individual owners. And it all falls back on us. We have the property managers’ trust and they leave it up to us. We keep it going, making sure things are functioning without fail.
We foresee things and we have never yet, in 20 years in business, ever seen any of those buildings evacuated, be shut down or be without water for any more than just a few hours. And that’s unbelievable. That’s because we have the equipment, the knowledge, the know-how, and we have the parts on hand. It’s what we do.”
Both Casey and Moore agree that what makes the company efficient and effective in being able to respond to account emergencies is a system of pagers and a philosophy of service. The accounts come first, and the pagers connect the office (where Tracey holds court) to the five guys on the road: Marty, Eric and Baldo, plus Willie and Mike, who are also interconnected. That allows everyone, always, to know what’s going on, and enables each person to pitch in as necessary to team fix a problem before it becomes a bigger problem.
Casey has dozens of examples, like several years ago when a main line in Queen’s Grant in Palmetto Dunes broke and the issue was obvious. Island Plumbing is so well known that their office got the call even before the property managers did. Mike was on the scene in a matter of minutes while another Island Plumbing truck headed back to the office to pick up essential equipment, and then joined Casey to aid in the repair. By the time the property management company was called and then called Casey, he was not only able to reply that he’d responded, but also that the problem was fixed.
“That hasn’t happened just once; it’s happened maybe hundreds of time,” Casey said. “We love to say to a property manager, don’t worry, we got it. That’s because we’re always available, even on weekends for our accounts; we always have someone on call, ready to respond.”
The key to all that is communication and a passionate philosophy of service to the accounts. “I’ve been in this business so long that sometimes a property manager will ask me to come in to help determine if a proposed improvement is a regime issue or an owner issue,” Casey said. “I know the bylaws. I’m familiar with the intricacies and responsibilities, which makes life easier for property managers and boards of directors. We also know where the shut-off valves are located, how the pipes run, all that. It would be very difficult for anyone to come along and jump into our business. I
t’s a niche within a niche.”
It’s not magic, and it’s not just luck that regimes and major properties in the area have remained dedicated customers of Island Plumbing. “I often wonder how much down time they would have experienced over the years, how much damage and how much rental revenue would have been lost because someone was inconvenienced,” Casey said.
No need to wonder about all that. With Island Plumbing, it just doesn’t happen.
For more information, call 843-842-3333 or log onto www.islandplumbinghhi.com.